Review: ‘Broken’

"Broken" is a brutal, effective tale of a woman taken captive by a cruel survivalist woodsman. Latest low-budget feature from enterprising Brit indie-horror multihyphenate Adam Mason manages to sidestep most expected exploitation angles, going instead for a grim realism almost as punishing to watch as it is painful for the trapped protag.

Supposedly based on a true story, “Broken” is a brutal, effective tale of a woman taken captive by a cruel survivalist woodsman. Latest low-budget feature from enterprising Brit indie-horror multihyphenate Adam Mason — here sharing major duties with first-time helmer Simon Boyes — manages to sidestep most expected exploitation angles, going instead for a grim realism almost as punishing to watch as it is painful for the trapped protag. Only limited genre auds will welcome such a hugely unpleasant movie, but pic is undeniably well-crafted and should win a following in offshore DVD release.

Single mother Hope (Nadja Brand Mason) returns home from a successful blind date and thanks her babysitting pal. Next thing we know, she wakes up in terrible pain in a coffin-like crate. When it’s finally opened, she’s struck unconscious, only to wake again in even more terrifying and painful circumstances — bound to a tree with a precarious foothold.

Her nameless captor, a mohawked, unshaven man (Eric Colvin) in spaghetti-Western like attire, informs her she can die there or cut herself loose with a razor. As we already know from a gruesome prologue showing one prior captive’s fate, accessing that razor will require an excruciating act of self-mutilation.

Motivated by her desperate need to find out what’s happened to her 6-year-old daughter, Hope does — temporarily — free herself before becoming little more than the man’s (non-sexual) slave.

One day the man brings home a new victim, a terrified teenager in a school uniform (Abbey Stirling), who survives the same initial test, (this time mercifully off-camera).

After putting us through Hope’s two-month ordeal, the co-helmers’ screenplay dangles a surprising but well-earned happy ending — only to twist the knife one last, cruel time, a tad gratuitously.

Sticking resolutely to the victims’ p.o.v., pic further sidesteps the usual genre misogyny and sexploitation by casting as lead not a babe but a thesp (Mason regular Nadja Brand) whose average pushing-40 looks make Hope a sympathetic Everywoman reacting credibly to extreme situations.

All perfs are strong, pacing and tech contribs ditto; very atmospheric lensing of the Cambridgeshire forest environ helps avoid potential tedium of the single-minded, single-location narrative. Only the last nasty jolt and use of a glowering Nick Cave song (“Deep in the Woods”) over closing credits come off as standard horror-flick hyperbole.

Broken

U.K.

Production

A Brand Mason production. Produced by Adam Mason, Nadja Brand Mason. Directed, written by Adam Mason,Simon Boyes.

Crew

Camera (color, mini-DV-to- DigiBeta), Erik Wilson; editors, Boyes, Mason; music, Gavin Miller, Emma Holland, Mortiis ; production designer, Neil Jenkins; sound, Wilson. Reviewed at Another Hole in the Head, San Francisco, June 12, 2006. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Hope - Nadja Brand Mason The Man - Eric Colvin School Girl - Abbey Stirling
With: Olivia Hill, Atesh Salih, Megan Van Kerro, Louise Townend, Chessie Davies.
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